Sometimes we find ourselves in situations where trust is low, and this creates all kinds of hurdles.  When trust is low it can be painful, frustrating, maddening, or even confusing. In such a case, you can try our 4 suggested ways listed below to repair damaged trust.

If you are in a relationship with negative behaviors, there is likely a trust issue. 

Signs that trust is low include:

  1. Self-protection.  When someone suddenly wants to put everything in an email and/or begins copying other people to gather witnesses to their communication with you.
  2. Defensiveness. Someone acts offended or angry and begins to justify what they did and why they did it.  The need to explain is coupled with strong negative emotions.
  3. Finger-pointing.  Someone (or some group) is blamed rightly or wrongly. 
  4. Silos.  People do not engage with others to collaborate, instead, they all work independently and with little to no communication.
  5. Withholding.  Someone holds back a piece of the story out of concern that there may be a consequence to them if they share the entire situation.

When trust is high, there are three observable behaviors:

  1. Vulnerability. People are willing to be vulnerable.  They will share their concerns, fears, and struggles.  They will ask for assistance and be open when they do not know what to do next.
  2. Candidness.  People are open and direct with their opinions and feedback.  They speak honestly about their reactions and do so with good intentions.
  3. Interdependence.  People are collaborative and depend on each other to achieve more together than they can alone.

The first step is to determine the root cause of the trust issue.

Usually, the root cause will be one of these 4 things:

  1. Lack of alignment.  The parties are not aligned about the what, the why, and/or the how.
  2. Lack of skills/knowledge.  There is a concern that one (or both) people do not have the adequate skills or knowledge to do something. 
  3. Lack of connectedness.  The people do not know each other well enough to empathize with the other or understand each other’s true intentions.
  4. Lack of accountability.  One or both parties are not accountable for what they have promised to do.

Four ways to begin to build trust when it is low:

  1. Find common ground.  Look for something all parties can agree about. Perhaps a common goal or desire.  Then, continue to look for ways to align.  This makes the areas where each individual has a different opinion easier to contend with because there is a base of alignment.
  2. Proclaim positive intentions.  Of course, you mean well, yet others don’t always understand your underlying intentions. Be clear about the positive reasons you are sharing feedback or asking for something.
  3. Get to know each other.  Ask questions about how they like to work, what motivates them, and what drives them.  People are more likely to trust and assume positive intentions when there is a good relationship.
  4. Be consistent.  Trust takes time to build, and even longer to repair. Take small steps consistently over time to show you are reliable.  Be consistent in both your message and your actions.


When trust has been damaged, we can actively work to regain it if the relationship matters to us.  Seek common ground, proclaim your positive intentions, get to know the other person, and be consistent.

About the Author: Leigh Ann Rodgers, Founder of Better Teams and Forward, is an IAF Certified Professional Facilitator with 20 years of experience in the human development field. Leigh Ann is a skilled meeting facilitator, trainer, and coach working across the globe to help leaders cultivate teams that are happy and high-performing.

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4 Responses

  1. Excellent read Leigh Ann! This couldn’t have been more timely. I plan on discussing some of your suggestions at a future team meeting.


    1. Michelle – I love that the timing was right. Openly talking about building trust is so important for healthy teams. Hoping your discussion leads to stronger relationships.

  2. Super read Leigh Ann! One other thing I would like to add is psychological safety – do I feel safe in the interaction with this person or in this team. Say a leader has a temper and he/she sometimes blame/ shouts at the team / team members (or worse) This leaves the team members anxious before each meeting what will the managers temper be? Will he/she be 😀 or 😡 leaving the members trying to react accordingly to the temper of the specific meeting. This can be a hard toxin to get rid off specially if the leader isn’t aware of the impact that his/her behavior has on the team. What do you think about that one?

    Best regards,


    1. Boel – this is a great point. And the leader isn’t the only person who might effect how safe someone feels. Ideally, this is where candid and tactful conversations can happen to rebuild trust. I think lack of awareness and misinterpretations are of the most common causes of strife. Both require courageous conversations with two people willing to listen and collaborate on a better way to move forward.

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